High Achievers? It’s all relative.

So my 5th grader came home yesterday with some information on Peachtree Middle School.  This is understandable, it’s going to be their new home over the next three years.

What caught my eye was the sheet of paper discussing the “High Achievers” program.  What was interesting about it was not the program itself, and not even the entry criteria.  The interesting part was what the entry criteria tell us about the state of our schools and how we’ve been deluding ourselves.

First let me give you some background.  The State of Georgia defines the requirements for the “Gifted” designation.  A student basically has to score in the top 5% on nationally normed standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT).  Again, these are defined by the state and there’s not much wiggle room, if any.

DeKalb County Schools offers an additional designation of “High Achiever”.  There are a couple of High Achiever magnet schools (Kittredge and Wadsworth are among the better known) and some of the schools have High Achiever programs within them.  In prior years, to get into the High Achiever program at Peachtree Middle School, you had to have either:

  • a score of 825 or higher on the CRCT, or
  • scoring in the 70th percentile or higher on a nationally normed test.

According to the Georgia DOE, CRCT scores generally ranged from 650 to 900 or above.  Scores below 800 are considered to not meet expectations.  Scores between 800 and 849 meet expectations.  Scores at 850 or higher exceed expectations.

With that in mind, the above doesn’t look so bad.  I mean, the middle of the meeting expectations range puts you in the top 30% of students, right?  That’s pretty good.

Along comes 2014 and the Georgia Milestones test that replaces the CRCT.  Since it’s a new test, the state correctly decided not to use its scores in determining graduation eligibility, etc.  Which brings us back around to the note that came home.

In the absence of normalized state test data, DeKalb County is forced to rely solely on nationally normed test scores.  And the new requirements, as of October 16, 2015, are scores that are 55th percentile or higher.  In other words, if you’re slightly above the national average, you’re classified as a High Achiever in DeKalb County.

That’s extremely disturbing.  I don’t say this to denigrate those children who are in the High Achiever programs.  I’m concerned about those children who aren’t in the programs.  The ones that are scoring below the 55th percentile.

I know that we’re not in Lake Wobegon, and all our kids are not above average.  But I believe that the vast majority of our students are not getting the education they need and we’ve been patting ourselves on the back because they passed the CRCT.  It’s been a sham.

And now it’s becoming clear.

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